Our writer gets rare chance to work behind the scenes in kitchen at Whisk

Posted November 9, 2012


SOUTH MIAMI, Fla. – I walked into Whisk timidly, shaking from my sunglasses down to my brand new pair of flats. I was no longer going to be sitting at table eating, but shortly, going to be the chef.

“Crap,” I thought as I looked down at my feet. “I probably should have changed my shoes.”

As I looked up, Brendan busted out of the silver titanium doors with the wide complacent grin he always wears when greeting customers.

“You excited?” he asked.  “Get your apron on and put up your hair.  We’re going to have you working back there.  Oh, and you might want to change those shoes.”

I knew it.  I walked into the business room, where Brendan’s co-owner, and sister greeted me gingerly.

“Go and change your clothes in there sweetie,” she said.  “Here’s an apron.”

And so I did.  Hair up.  Apron on.  Shoes— well shoes on, although not the best.  I was crossing my fingers that these brand new babies would make it through the kitchen.

Originally a small catering business on 4702 Le Jeune Road in nearby Coral Gables, Whisk is now a full service restaurant on Sunset.  It was started by Brendan Connor, who was born and raised in Miami and has had a passion for cooking his entire life.

Since opening at the new location, which has been up and running for a little over three years, Whisk has received multiple awards such as the award for the best burger at the Burger Bash in the 2012 South Beach Food and Wine Festival.  They also have been rated highly by Zagat.

I have been frequenting the restaurant multiple times a week ever since it was the small catering business.  I now have the luxury of sitting in their restaurant, and not having to wait on the lines out the door in the blazing heat for a seat at one of their two chairs.

And so, I was led into the world of Whisk, which I have been an outside spectator of for years.  Through the cutout window people can easily spot what’s going on back in the kitchen, and I myself have been one of those people mysteriously wondering who’s cooking and what’s going in to my food.  But today, I got a chance to see what actually happens.

I was first greeted by the sous chef who introduced himself to me as Starlyn.  I called him Stardom a couple of times and he thought it was quite funny.

The first thing he said to me was, “So you ready to cook, ma?”

I was as ready as I was going to be.

My first task was to peel beets for the garden vegetable salad- one of Whisk’s signature dishes, created by Chef Brendan himself.  The beets are roasted in rosemary, thyme, vegetable stock, or “veg” stock, as Starlyn likes to call it, balsamic, and oil.  They are roasted for about an hour to an hour and a half, and then they are ready for peeling.

I watched as Starlyn peeled the flacid skin off of a beet with a spoon.  It’s a little more tedious than it sounds but I felt like I could handle it.

“Here, use this,” Brendan said.  He handed me a towel.  “I use the towel to scrape off the skin.  It’s much easier.”

And much easier it was.  I started scraping away beet skin after beet skin, peeling every two beets for every one that Starlyn was peeling, until the tray was finished. I then though to myself, “Why would the sous chef be doing this with a spoon while I’m scraping with a rag?”

“Because I don’t want my hands to be stained red for a week,” Starlyn said.

Oh, that’s why.

Starlyn then started to explain to me the workings of the kitchen from the front of the house to the back of the house and all of the restaurant abbreviations they use in the back of the kitchen.  I listened respectfully as I stared down to my toes, yes, no beet juice on the flats so far!

I then get led to the next station, where whisk makes its famous sandwiches.  The “Tavo” as they call it, or the turkey avocado sandwich was what I was going to make. It’s the signature whisk sandwich, and I felt like the luckiest girl in the world.  I was going to be able to make this magic little sandwich all by myself at home from now on.

First up, Starlyn coached me on how to spread the mayo and mustard on the multi-grain bread.

“You got to put it all at the top, then swipe, and then do the next layer right over it, and swipe” he explained.

Easy, right?  Not the least bit.  I practiced on two separate pieces and then Starlyn tossed them.

“Okay, you’re ready,” he said.

I did my first professional swipe of the 5 ounces each of mustard and mayo.  I then started to pile on the lettuce, three slices of tomatoes, a sprinkle of salt and pepper, and then the avocado, which happened to be my next challenge.  I learned how to slice and “fan” out the avocado so it looked Whisk-tastic.  Then I put on another sprinkle of salt and pepper, which I learned goes specifically over the tomatoes and avocado because they soak up the flavor the most.

Lastly, was the wrapping of the sandwich.  Whisk has its token tight wrap so when you bight into the overly stuffed sandy nothing falls out.

Starlyn showed me how to do this, and then it was my turn.  I placed the sandwich gingerly down on the wax paper, and started wrapping.

You can do this, I thought– horizontal, over the top, twisting the sides, and then Dave peed, the other sous chef interjected.

“Damn! That’s your first time!  That’s pretty good.  That took me weeks” he exclaimed.

My chef ego went through the roof and then learned that I was ready to master the sauté station.  I was going to make Whisk’s most popular hot dish, which is their spicy beef.

Starlyn put eight ounces of oil into the silver pan and let it get hot.  He then pulled out a huge tray of raw steak from underneath the stove, and pulled out a couple of slices.  They were pre-cut into small triangles.  Starlyn sprinkled the salt and pepper mixture over the top, and then they were ready for the pan.

He said, “Here, lay them down softly and don’t be scared.”

He saw me staring at the pan watching the hot oil.  I was extremely intimidated.

I placed the pieces down one by one, listening to my directions carefully.  I kept thinking not to fear the oil.  Starlyn then helped me put a heaping of spinach into a pan simultaneously.  I told Dave who was passing by that the spicy beef is not that hard at all to make.

“Yea, but try it when you got 15 orders to make at a time.  Mastering that’s not that easy!” he said.

Strike two of amateur kitchen comments, I thought to myself.

“Oh right, all those pans at once could be tough to manage!” I said.

I then found out they just use one big pan.

The beef seared for about three minutes on each side and then I was ready to plate.  As I watched the sizzling pieces of tender beef I was salivating, and I asked Starlyn if he always eats the food.

“I did at first,” he said.  “Now I just take tons of sodas.  Free sodas are now my perk!”

Once the beef and spinach were done cooking, it was time for plating, and to drizzle the special sauce over the top.  This was the most exciting part of my day.  Each time I ate the spicy beef at whisk I thought to myself— what the heck is in this unbelievable concoction?

I learned that the token ingredient was coconut milk.  It also has honey, garlic, chile sauce, and soy sauce.

Starlyn grabbed a scoop of rice and put it in the bowl.  He then instructed me to place the beef down, and the spinach on the side.  Lastly was the drizzle on heavenly sauce that the steak soaked up instantly.

I cleaned the plate, did the chef-like spin, and put the plate on the shelf for a waitress to grab.

Just when I felt like a chef, I looked down at my shoes.  They were all clean — I just had a notebook covered in beet juice.


Whisk is located at 7382 SW 56th Ave., in South Miami, Fla.

Whisk does not take reservations, but if you want to avoid a crowd, I suggest visiting at non-peak hours.  Make sure you try the spicy beef, fried green tomatoes, and the gourmet burritos.

Every Friday, there is a signature burger special, which changes weekly.  Whisk also has daily specials and soups.

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